Wednesday, 27 May 2009


The quince is an odd fruit. My fruit grower's handbook tells me that they are related to both the apple and pear family and originate in the middle East. It also says there is evidence that quince trees were cultivated long before either apples or pears.

I have a quince tree in my garden, however the fruit that come from it are pretty inedible and too few in numbers to do anything interesting with. The Spanish and Portugese however, make membrillo. A super sweet, fragant, floral smelling jelly that tastes fantastic with cheese. As we all know I love cheese.

Membrillo works really well with hard strong cheese, it is traditionally eaten with manchego in Spain, but is equally good with a strong cheddar. Ashmore, Godminster or Winterdale Shaw are the three I think it pairs best with, but it also goes well with soft tangy goat's cheese too.

So this is a quick recipe for you I have corrupted and bastardised form something I saw done by someone on the tv a few years back (I would credit them but I can't remember who it was).

Garlic and goats cheese toasts with crispy fried Parma ham and membrillo.

To serve two you will need:

A stale baguette, olive oil, a clove of garlic, 150g of french goat's cheese, 4 slices of Parma ham, 100g of membrillo, fresh thyme.

To make it:

Take the stale baguette and slice off four pieces of about 1.5cm thick. Brush them with olive oil and place them under a hot grill. Once toasted on both sides rub the clove of garlic roughly over both surfaces and leave them to one side.

Take your membrillo and slice it thinly into four equal sized pieces. Wrap them tightly in a sice of Parma ham and place them in a hot frying pan with a little oil until the parma ham starts to become brown and crispy. Towards the end of the cooking add a couple fo sprigs of thyme to the pan.

Crumble a fair amount of goat's cheese on the toasts and place them back under the grill for about 3-4 minutes so the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Lay the parma ham and membrillo on top, drizzle a little olive oil over and serve immediately with a fresh leaf salad.
As a little note, when considering what to drink with this, try Whitstable Brewery's Raspberry Wheat beer. The acid tang cuts through the goats cheese beautifully and the sweet fruitiness in the membrillo plays beautifully with the residual fruit from the raspberries in the beer. A fantastic combination.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Bank Holiday Barbecue Bonanza!

I'm sitting here typing this on Bank Holiday Monday. As with most Bank Holidays the weather today is awful, off and on rain all morning so far. With the weather forecast taken into account we decided to have a barbecue yesterday rather than today. Ahhh bank holiday barbecues, conjours images of sausages that are black on the outside, raw in the middle. Dad burning his eyebrows off after spraying too much lighter fluid on the coals to get them going. Some limp iceberg lettuce and a couple of insipid, watery, crunchy unripe tomatoes as a token salad that everyone leaves.

People, it doesn't have to be this way!

We are lucky enough to have one of these amazing barbecues at home, which was quite possibly the best investment ever. Although barbecue purists get all sniffy about gas cooking not tasting the same as charcoal, the results, in my opinion are much better. The fact that it is gas means that you are up to temperature in a few minutes and don't have to faff about lighting the charcoal 30-40 minutes before you start cooking. Gas also means the heat is very much more controlable, meaning that you can cook things a lot more precisely. As ours also has a hinged lid, it can be used to cook whole joints of beef, legs of lamb, pizza or even turned into a hot smoker.

Weber do a bit of kit called a chicken roaster for the barbecue as well. This is an adaptation of the old concept of beer can chicken. The chicken stands on a spike which has a reservoir in the centre for liquid to be poured into, we used white wine for this one. There is a plug that is placed in the chicken's neck cavity to stop all the wine that is evaporating from escaping and a drip tray to catch fat and the juices running out of the chicken. We also added a layer of parsley butter between the flesh and skin on the breast of this bird.

We had also par-boiled some new potatoes and mixed them with some fresh rosemary and whole cloves of garlic. These were placed in the drip tray of the chicken roaster to get all beautifully crispy and coated in the chicken juices. The garlic when roasted becomes sweet and sticky and beautiful to eat.

We also made a couple of easy salads, a green salad with rocket, peas, broad beans and fine beans and a coleslaw style salad with white cabbage, apple, rasins and pine nuts.

To make this feast for four you will need:

For the Chicken and Potatoes:
One meduim chicken
A 500g bag of new potatoes
A large bulb of garlic
About 5 tender stems of rosemary
Lots of chopped parsley
About 40g of butter

For the salads:
A white cabbage
Two apples
A handful of pine nuts
A handful of raisins
About 3 tbsp of mayo
A bag of rocket leaves
Half a mug of frozen peas (fresh are better)
Half a mug of frozen broad beans (fresh are better)
A handful of fine beans


Mix your butter and parsley together and create a pocket between the skin and the flesh of the breast of your chicken with your fingers. Stuff the butter under the skin and spread it out evenly, making sure you don't break the skin. Preheat the barbecue to a meduim heat and place the chicken in on the stand filled with a glass of white wine. If you dont have a stand, use a small baking tray and an empty beer can half filled with wine.

While the chicken is cooking, par boil the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes so they still retain a bit of resistance when poked with a knife. Wrap them in tin foil with the rosemary and individual garlic cloves while steaming hot season generously with sea salt. This allows the potatoes to take on more of the flavours of garlic and rosemary. During this time use some of the boiling water left over from the potatoes to steam the beans and peas, once tender run them under the cold tap to stop them from over cooking. Shred half the cabbage finely and cube the apple into 1cm cubes, add the raisins, pine nuts and mayo. Mix well.

Once the chicken has been in the barbecue for about an hour, open the lid and place the potatoes in the drip tray round the bottom. Replace the lid and have a beer, your work is nearly done.

Once the chicken is cooked take it off the spike to rest for a few minutes before you carve it. Leave the potatoes in the tray in the barbecue fo that time for extra crispiness.

Take everything out of the barbecue, carve the chicken and serve!

Please, please, please note: Our chicken took about an hour and forty minutes, yours might take more or less time depending on its size and the heat of your barbie. I would strongly suggest investing in a meat thermometer so that you don't poison everyone and your chicken is cooked perfectly. They are only about a fiver in a decent cook's shop.

So here we are as ever, the great reveal!

The chicken was beautifully tender, falling off the bone when it was cooked, the potatoes were fantastic, all that concentrated, sticky chicken flavour works so well with the garlic and rosemary. I urge you to give this a go, lets make badly cooked barbecue food a thing of the past!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Steak Science

Steak cooked well is a beautiful thing, many of my mates say steak and chips is their favorite meal. My problem with steak is that unless I have cooked it, it generally is not done how I like it. If you are interested, show it the pan for about a minute on each side and i'm happy!

I'm going to list a few things here that are, in my opinion really important if you want to want to cook steak well. These are my opinions, from what I have learned and they are by no means a definitive guide!

Buying the steak:

1. Buy the best possible steak you can afford. Avoid supermarket meat, it is almost always disappointing. Instead, go to your local butchers and ask what they have available, this takes time but is well worth the extra effort.

2. When it comes to choosing a cut, people often opt for fillet as it is the most expensive and therefore the 'best', sadly this isn't true. I would much rather have a sirloin or a ribeye over fillet any day, this is all to do with fat content. Fat is where the flavour is, because fillet is so lean very little fat is present it can end up tasting a little bland.

3. Ask you butcher how long the meat has been 'hung' for. Hanging is the process of maturing beef in a carefully controlled way that allows a slight breakdown of the muscle fibres within the meat. Normally this is done for a period of ninteen to twenty eight days. At ninteen days the meat will still be pink or red but after longer periods will darken in colour becoming grey or brown. I like my beef to be hung for at least twenty one days.

4. Make sure when you get the steaks cut they are all of an equal size, uneven sizes mean uneven cooking times which makes life a lot harder when trying to organise everything later.

Preparing and cooking the steak:

1. Firstly don't think about grilling your steak. Frying is the only way to do it.

2. That out of the way, consider your pan carefully. The best possible pan for cooking steaks in is a cast iron ridged griddlepan. I am fortunate enough to have been bought a Le Creuset one a few years ago, but any heavy based ridged frying pan will do. Having a heavy base ensures that the pan doesn't loose too much heat when you add whatever you are cooking.

3. Always oil the meat not the pan you will be cooking in. You can use any oil really, I tend to use a little rapeseed oil beacuse it deals with high temperatures well and has a fairly neutral flavour.

4. Get the pan as hot as humanly possible. A dry frying pan should be just starting to smoke before you add the steaks.

5. Don't move the steaks around too much once they are in the pan, you should try to turn them only once. Never place a spatula or spoon on the steak and press down on the meat it when it is cooking.

Peter's Patented Poke Test:

Giving instructions for how long to cook steak for is tricky. So much rests on how hot the pan is, how thick the steak is and what cut it is. Rather than give timings try this method, follow the hand gestures below with the predominant hand you use (i'm right handed) and touch the index finger of the opposite hand into the fleshy part at the bottom of your gesturing hand. Touch the steak then touch your hand, this will tell you how cooked the steak is.




Well Done (heaven forbid you ever cook steak like this)

Before serving

1. Let it rest. Take the steak out of the pan and let it rest for alt least 4 to 7 minutes. When the meat is cooked all the muscle fibres contract making it tough an chewy. Give it a little time and the fibres will relax and the meat becomes much more tender.

The picture of the steaks I cooked last night are at the top of the page and in a great Blue Peter style, here is the final product.

Sirloin steak served with fried mushrooms, Lyonaisse potatoes, aspargus, grilled tomato and peas.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Pub Review: The Butcher's Arms, Herne

In the search for somewhere new and interesting to have a pint, I found a pub in Herne named The Butchers Arms. It won CAMRA's Kent pub of the year last year so at least I knew the beer would be well kept. Claiming to be Britain's smallest freehold pub, the Butcher's Arms is just that. Tiny. It has no bar and seating for 6 people.

The disused butchers shop, now decorated with a myriad of old beer towels, hop bines and butcher's equipment has an instant warm and welcoming atmosphere. I went on a Saturday night and it was packed, by which I mean there were about fifteen people in there. The beauty of a pub this small, it measures fifteen foot by eleven, is that there is no such thing as a private conversation. Instantly you are involved with what is going on between the people around you. Within half an hour you feel like you have been a regular there for years, chatting to everybody about just about anything. The only no go areas when it comes to conversation are lager and a large local brewery with the initials S.N.

Speaking of lager, don't expect any. In fact dont expect anything other than fresh cask ale. No soft drinks, no spirits no alcopops. This is a beer drinker's pub which suits me down to the ground. As I mentioned previously there is no bar, ask Martin the landlord and owner and he will dissapear off down to the cellar where the beer is racked and he will bring you a jug of beer and an empty pint glass. No lines, no handpumps, a tap at the bottom of the barrel and a spile on top. There are always at least four beers on at all times, with a few remaining fairly constant, Hophead and Harveys being two for the almost constant presences. Every week Martyn updates the beers they have available on the website, this week being: Dark Star's Over the Moon and Hophead, Adanams Broadside, Thornbridge Jaipur and Harveys Best.

I had a pint of Harveys best when I went a couple of weeks ago which was lovely, fresh, well kept and as beer should be. Sadly I was driving so I didn't get to try anything else, i'll be back soon though that is for sure.

You can visit their website here for updates on their beers or find out how to get there. There is also a short video here about the pub winning the Kent pub of the year.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Guilty Pleasures

At the moment I'm trying to write a 10,000 word portfolio for Monday and revise for exams. This is leaving me very little time for cooking or eating. Toast and copious amounts of coffee are all that are keeping me going at the moment until I made this for lunch. Everyone has that old favorite they can fall back on when they need it, this is mine.

Mark at Pencil and Spoon posted a blog about sandwiches today, one of his favorite foodgroups. This can't really be included because it is only one sided but it is probably what I would choose if he had asked about snacks rather than sandwiches. This snack, invented by my friend Jon to accompany late night poker sessions while at uni are ace. Many times they have seen me through periods of extreme poverty, drunkenness and hunger. They are not highbrow, but just very tasty.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the (insert drumroll)..........................

Pizza Toast!

To make these you will need (per person)

Two slices of lightly toasted bread, two tablespoons of hot salsa, 3 or 4 thin slices of medium cheddar cheese, two or three thin slices of tomato.

Toast your bread either in the toaster or under the grill and leave for a minute or two to cool. Add one tablespoon of salsa per slice of bread and spread it thinly and evenly. Place the cheese on top of each slice, covering all the salsa and the edges of the bread. Add a couple of thin slices of tomato and place under the grill until the cheese is golden and bubbling. Scoff it all as quickly as possible.

Quick, super cheap and very tasty, I scoffed mine in about 2 minutes flat.

So, the question I ask of you. What are your guilty pleasures with regards to food? Slobby, easy, disgusting I don't care, I just want to know.